Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve menu for Two

Sumac-dusted jumbo lump crabcakes with caramelized shallot and orange juice reduction

Salt-grilled, shell-on jumbo shrimp with terrace thyme

Escarole and mandarin salad with pomegranate vinaigrette

Crepes with Grand Marnier and orange zest sauce, all aflame

Laurent Perrier Rose

(...and thinking very fondly of jvdh and arcadia, who ate their snoek and chips in Cape Town tonight, together. Lekker slaap, julle. Môre is nog 'n dag.)

Terrace on New Year's Eve

We had expected to land in Cape Town today, to see the New Year in quietly with my parents, the Therapy Corgis and Ben the labrador, and two cats, with champagne, a braai, and bed. Instead we are here on a gently snowing New York winter's day, cooling our heels while we wait for Vincent's greencard interview. Then we will be southward bound.

It was only the scraping of a shovel on the sidewalk outside that alerted me to snow. It fell so softly that I didn't notice it on the skylights, as I luxuriated in a late bed.

A chilly seat.

The Iceberg rose just won't give up. This bud has remained there through significantly sub-zero temperatures over the last few days, and today is warmer - just a degree below freezing.

So that is the message it sends for the next year:

You can do it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chicken steak

Chuck. Blade. Paleron. Flatiron steak. Chicken many names for this piece of beef from the shoulder.

Staring happily at the chicken steak in the display case at Dickson's Farmstand at the Chelsea Market, I asked the girl serving me where exactly on the shoulder it belongs, as I have no idea how to tell butchers in parts foreign what a chicken steak is. Ain't none of them heard of its French name, paleron.

I have only ever seen it at Los Paisanos on Smith Street in Brooklyn, and I always use it for boeuf bourgignon; at least, ever since I ate it at Les Halles, for Anthony Bourdain's 50th birthday party.

In case you're wondering, it was not a very exclusive affair. The place was jammed solid with upright people, cradling bowls of the boeuf, which was served en masse with impeccable frites. I had his then-editor, Mr Gianopoulous to thank for the invitation (thanks again, Mr G). Surprisingly, it was the best boeuf bourgignon I had ever eaten, and as soon as the Les Halles Cookbook was in my hands, and I had read the recipe, that boeuf was my boeuf - except I still use bacon, which he does not - recipe here, at 66 Square Feet (the Food) and a lot more red wine. Point is, Mr Bourdain specified chicken steak. And that makes all the difference.

So...when I told the friendly Dickson's girl that it's what I use for boeuf bourgignon, she said, very brightly, Oh no, that's a waste of chicken steak, you should use chuck!

Um. This was confusing. I thought it was a type of chuck.

I have eaten that same recipe made with plain old "chuck," cooked by the same Mr G's then-girlfriend, when we were still on speaking terms, before she wrote The Book. Though tenderish, it still had that stringy, chucky feel. Chicken steak, on the other hand, with its distinctive central seam of fat around a tender cartilage, dissolves in your mouth.

"A waste of chicken steak?" I don't think so. That boeuf is divine.

The problem for Web surfers and cooks is that the definition of chuck is very broad. There is chuck and there is chuck.  There could be good chuck and bad chuck. But chicken steak is chuck. All from the shoulder of the beef. But the Dicksons girl couldn't tell me where, exactly.

In short: It it doesn't have that seam dividing the steak down the middle, it ain't chicken steak.

So. Anyone else have another name for this piece of meat? [See comments.]

Sausages and chowder

On a frigid Monday we visited the Chelsea Market, and after a most delicious, $3.44 clam chowder (and a rich but vapid lobster bisque) at the Lobster Place, came away with four fat pork sausages from Dickson's Farmstand.

They are not cheap as sausages go, and I see their price is marked per kilogram. If that had been true they would have been cheap! As it was, they were $10/lb.

We ate them simply, with a heavily dilled potato salad and two mustards, and an Alsation Pinot Blanc from the Brooklyn Wine Exchange.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Adirondack, Montreal to NYC

On our return trip to New York we sat on the left of the train, facing east. A spotty rain left the windows pixelated and promised extra-spotty pictures for the rest of the journey, but they dried after a few hours.

Our train picnic ended with a Boursault, Vince's favourite cheese, and, as far as I know, unavailable Stateside. We took our previous conductor's advice and brought our own wine. Sadly, we left the duck rillettes behind in Beloeil.

The rising and falling mists were incredibly atmospheric and I would have loved to have stopped the train for some really good pictures.

Pictures for a painter.

The Frenchie's (beautiful!) version is here. And here are some more reasons why I loved it.

The nephew

I have two nieces, a tall one and a short one. So is very nice to acquire, through my marriage, a nephew, Yann. How else would I grow bunny ears? Here we are at the lake-filled crater of St. Hilaire, outside Beloeil.

Yann, you are my favourite nephew!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Back in Brooklyn.

Soon I'll post some more blurry train pictures, from another breathtakingly beautiful trip on The Adirondack from Montreal to New York. Aside from a grumpy, rude, unprofessional crew (quite the opposite, on the trip up), it was bliss. Wide seats, plenty of legroom, power outlets for computers at the seat, hot strong coffee from the thermos, the cafe car if you feel like spreading out, with a table between you, to eat your own picnic and drink your own wine, and the scenery, frame after frame of perfectly composed landscape. Farmland with brown furrows in the white expanse; mist lifting from trees; crows flying over dried yellow corn stalks; icicles clinging to lake-bound rocks; petrified trees in frozen lowland; cracked ice sheets; ice fisherpersons; broad rivers; massive lakes; ice flows; bald eagles. And no inkling - apart from the dreary wait at Customs - that it is all taking 11 hours.

It is a trip I recommend. And winter may be the best time to do it.

When I was home I thought I was ill with a dizziness that made me feel as though I lurched in the shower and jumped in our bed. Vince said, It's just train sickness. And it was. My body thought it was still riding the rails.

Early Christmas

Yann, Brigitte, Germaine and Vincent.

In Beloeil it was decreed that we open our gifts early, and so we did. With four cats to help dispose of ribbons, it was a lot of fun.

Above, Sapphi the 9 month old kitten. Below, on my lap, Circe, the doyenne.

Brigitte gave me some gorgeous cups and saucers for breakfast coffee. From Germaine a beautiful cut crystal bowl, for pineapple fluff.

Vince? He wore a ribbon...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best of Cape Town, 2009

A narrow view, as these photographs are culled from two months in January and February...a couple from December 2008 may have sneaked in.

As usual, click on a picture on the slideshow to enlarge, then top left in the new window, on Slideshow, if you'd like larger images and captions.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Beloeil, the 'hood

The hood starts at home, of course.

I have met my salad match in Germaine, Vince's mom. She likes salad even more than I do. If that's possible. So lunch is a huge green salad, with an egg, garlic and cider and olive oil dressing. We introduced a South African red found at a local store. Not very good, I'm afraid. The rest of this one went into a cranberry sauce for the Christmas Eve turkey. Also Boursault cheese, never found in New York.

After lunch, in some rare sunshine, a walk.

Some orderly trees.

A missing cat.

Snow-heavy branches.

Small snowball with non-sticking snow.

And very pretty houses on the Rue Richelieu, next to the frozen river.

Happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best of New York, 2009

Some of my favourite New York moments from this year.

Click on the slideshow for fullscreen pictures, though it seems not to give you the slideshow once in the new window, click on Slideshow, top left.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beloeil 30 km from Montreal. From the slopes of Mont St. Hilaire (above), amongst the old apple orchards, Montreal is a cityscape on the horizon, rising from the white plain. The River Richelieu is frozen in the middle of Beloeil, anchored by the slim spires of stone churches on each bank.

We went for a walk in the woods. Windchill of -21'C was promised. I wore four layers plus a borrowed down coat with fluffy hood. Yes, Mommy, I know what you are thinking!

Beware the child behind you: Vince's nephew, Yann. He has many inventions planned, most involving hamsters. The only one I could sanction was a hamster-powered lawnmower, which fertilizes while it mows.

La famiglia: Vincent, Yann, Germaine, Vincent's mom.

The snow squeaked beneath our boots. We saw a woodpecker.

I was impressed by the cold. They said the weather was quite mild.

I fell in love with a birch tree. The most silky, beautiful bark...